Thursday, April 15, 2010
Sharm el Sheikh
Toward the end of February, Jeff and I took a mini-vacation and spent a long weekend in Sharm el Sheikh. (I know, I've taken my sweet time writing about it, but what else is new?) Some friends were spending a week there to dive, and we decided to join them for the last part of their vacation. We arrived on a Wednesday evening and flew back to Cairo that Saturday.
After dinner, we headed back to our room for some sleep. On the way, though, I stopped to take a couple of photographs. The lights of Sharm across the bay from our resort were beautiful, although I couldn't get any pictures of that to turn out well. I also was fascinated by the traditional lamps that were used to provide the (sparse) lighting on the stairs and walkways.
The next morning, Jeff and I slept late. Then we found our way to the main restaurant (I forget the name) where the breakfast buffet was held. There we found an omelet station, a fruit bar, a bread bar, an Oriental corner (which boasted fuul and some other local breakfast dishes), and a variety of egg and sausage dishes (not pork sausage; that's very unusual in Egypt). Most importantly to me, there also were the usual fresh, delicious juices--orange, apple, and hibiscus. After enjoying a leisurely breakfast, Jeff and I took a walk around the resort to see what was available. Then we headed to the pool, where we spent most of the day relaxing and reading.
That evening, we met up with our friends for dinner. Their dive team had told them about a good steak restaurant in Na'ama Bay, an area not too far from the resort, and we were up for anything. We took a couple of the hotel taxis to the area where they'd been told to go, but we had issues finding the exact restaurant that had been mentioned. We were able, however, to find another steak place that was very good. The best part about the restaurant was the atmosphere--it looked like a jungle in there. There seemed to be trees growing inside the restaurant. The lighting was dim, mostly candlelight. The music was unfortunately loud, but it didn't detract too much. After a very nice dinner, we rolled ourselves out of our seats and began heading back.
I must say, it was interesting watching our friends--who are living outside of the U.S. but not in Egypt--negotiate a taxi fare. There was quite a bit of discussion about exactly which taxi we would be getting into, as it wasn't the drivers who were negotiating. There was a long line at the taxi stand, and those drivers at the front of the line wanted outrageous prices because they had had to wait so long to get to the front of the line. It was set up so that once a driver was in the line, they couldn't pull out, so the order in which they received passengers was fixed. Passengers who didn't want to pay the large prices could negotiate with representatives of other drivers, who may be parked across the divided highway, a long walk down the road, or who may not be parked at all--they may just cruise by and illegally stop to pick us up. I'm not sure how many taxis were rejected for fear of crossing the busy road. It was a new situation even for Jeff and me, since nothing is that organized in Cairo; we just flag down a taxi and negotiate right there on the street, no matter how many horns are honking behind us.
A couple of hours later, four of us went out to do our shopping. We went back to Na'ama Bay and allowed the shopkeepers to lure us in, although we disappointed most of them. We did a lot of looking and very little buying. Our friends were looking for t-shirts to commemorate one of the dives they had taken--Thistlegorm, I think, a wreck site that's a really big deal to divers, and justifiably so, from the pictures they took. They also wanted some cartouches, but Jeff and I cautioned them against anyone who would be able to customize them in the time they had left--tourists have been known to discover that the characters were glued on. It also seemed that the vendors were offering lower quality for higher prices than what we've seen, so we offered to simply order the cartouches from our favorite jeweler and ship them. (We still haven't done that, but we plan to do it this weekend, promise!) Then we started looking for "typical Egyptian" souvenirs, and I admit that I had a hard time coming up with something that is typical Egyptian other than cartouches, papyrus, alabaster, and distinctive lamps or mashrabeyya (there's a picture of what I mean here), the last two of which are common throughout the Middle East. We did eventually find a shop that had a variety of authentic--rather than touristy--Egyptian items, some of which even had tags from one of my favorite charity vendors here in Cairo. Better yet, they even had clearly labeled prices, which were reasonable, considering that it was located in a very touristy area. And, when I spoke with the shopkeeper in Arabic and he was curious as to why I was able to do so, I told him that Jeff and I live in Cairo. He shook his head, said "I wish you hadn't told me that," and dropped the prices on the items we purchased by about 10%.
Sofitel resort in Na'ama Bay. It was beautiful--all of the pictures throughout this post were taken on the grounds; this last one is of a pattern that was on the ceiling of the reception area. The rooms were clean and mostly comfortable. Our air conditioner didn't seem to be functioning as well as we would prefer; it got hot during the day, even when we left it on all day, but it cooled off quickly in the evening when we opened the main door and the door to our balcony to let a breeze come through. The service and food at all three restaurants that we tried was very good--El Kababgy, the main one, and another outdoor cafe where we had lunch on Thursday. Overall, I would recommend it as a great place to go for a weekend getaway. I don't think I'd want to stay longer than a weekend unless I was diving or had other activities planned, though. Oh, and a word of warning for American prudes like me--there were guests from all over the world, so pool-side attire ranged all the way from niqab to topless bikinis.)